art of blending
2003 Niepoort Vintage Port
with a dozen or so winemakers, merchants and journalists I recently
spent a weekend in Porto with Dirk Niepoort where we celebrated his
40th birthday. Among other events, we had a tasting of Port samples.
This was a fascinating opportunity to take a look at some of the
Niepoort Port components from the 2003 vintage. We werenít told
anything about the seven glasses in front of us, which all contained
a dark, impenetrable sample of port. Our job? Simply to comment on
the different components.
was quite a challenge to try these concentrated, tannic concoctions,
especially in the morning: I tried them all through and then started
trying them again, but before long my mouth began to feel like
leather. As with any cask samples, I was trying to look beyond the
nose: at this early stage you donít necessarily want wines that
are already open or showing too much. My own feeling (which could be
wrong) is that what matters at this stage is the balance and
structure on the palate.
are my notes as written blind, followed by a summary of Dirkís
comments on each. This was the really interesting part of the
exercise: hearing what he (as one of the Douroís most respected
Port blenders) has to say about the potential for each as components
in a final blend.
is an art form that requires quite different skills on the part of
the taster than those used typically by critics. I gave each a score
(take this with a pinch of salt) merely to give you some idea of how
I ranked the merits of each. However, it became clear by chatting to
Dirk that some of the wines that are the most balanced and complete
now might not be the most useful to him as a blender. I should add
that all of these wines apart from 4 were of course made in lagares
with the stems.
Port sample 1
Sweet herby, spicy nose. Distinctive herby character. Huge
concentration on the palate with spicy structure. Very intense, with
a lovely rich spiciness and structure. 91/100
This is from the Pisca vineyard, which has recently been
purchased by Niepoort. Itís very powerful and not overextracted.
This vineyard gives tannins and has the most intense and amazing
fruit, but itís not a perfect wine on its own.
Port sample 2
Taut herby, spicy nose with intense structured fruit. Lovely
structure on palate: hugely tannic, tight and dense. 94/100
From a young-ish vineyard in Tua (25 years old), the same as
sample 3. During the harvest we were not sure of this. It has the
most amazing colour and is the most fruity, and there was some
volatility at harvest. Iím overwhelmed when I taste it, but it is
not a wine that I like. It is showy, huge and overripe and it will
probably go into Secundum.
Port sample 3
Taut herby spicy nose with classy structured fruit. The palate
is quite lively with high acidity and fine-grained, firm tannins
together with some herby complexity. 96/100
This is the best wine from the Tua vineyard. It has good balance,
although it is not the most complex of all. It is the most perfect
on its own.
Port sample 4
Nose shows some sweet dense fruit. A little more sweet and open.
Smooth rich and sweet on palate with nice balance. 92/100
This is a cocktail we made that broke all the rules. It is
overextracted and we did everything wrong, but it doesnít show it
and it is getting better all the time. It doesnít taste as sweet
as it is. It has fruit that I like more and more.
Port sample 5
Roasted sweet herbal edge to the fruit. Very ripe, rich and open
on the palate with good structure. Quite sweet. 92/100
This is a blend from different growers in Vale de Mendiz, from
very old vines. Itís a wine I like a lot, with acidity,
personality and elegance. I may use it for the Niepoort vintage,
because it might contribute elegance and personality.
Port sample 6
Shy, slightly herbal nose. Very sweet and rounded on the palate
with dense, concentrated fruit. 90/100
This started off lighter in colour than the others but I think by
the time of blending it will have the same colour. I think this is
one of the best. It is very sweet but it is one of the most complex
Port sample 7
Tight, herbal, spicy structured nose. Rich, concentrated palate.
Good balance in a bold style, and quite sweet. 93/100
This turns out to be a blend of more-or-less equal parts of 1Ė6.
it looks like the 2003 Vintage Niepoort will be a very fine wine.
also: the art of blending part 1: Beaucastel
2003 varietal components